September 12, 2010

Video Game To Benefit Health

Overweight middle-aged men in Teesside, England could soon have a unique tool for improving their health: a boxing video game.

Researchers are using the game to motivate a population that is generally reluctant to exercise.

The exergaming system uses a home-grown motion capture rig built from LED lights and inertial measurement units.

Researchers are seeking out social clubs in Teesside for the trials of the technology and the approach to improving fitness and health.

Project leader Dr Iain Spears from the University of Teesside said despite the success of the Wii and its motion capture system, it was necessary for the team to make their own system to ensure participants could not cheat.

"When people first get a Wii sports game, they perform the moves just like they were actually playing the game. But, as they get used to how the controller works, they tend to just sit and move their wrist to make the game work," said Dr Spears.

Accelerometers in console capture systems typically cannot distinguish between full moves and small flicks, he said.

He added that alternative console-based motion capture systems based around cameras were also unsuitable because their frame rates were too slow to capture high-speed movements of participants.

Greater sensitivity was also needed, he said, to ensure that estimates of the energy participants expended were accurate.

The system researchers built is based around a combination of sensors set on a controller in each hand, a head band and a chest piece. The two hand controllers are linked to the belt via a rubber resistance band so participants have to expend real effort to throw a punch.

LEDs on the controllers, head band and chest piece allow a computer system to keep an eye on the participants movements. The system is basically a "cross between the new Sony PlayStation Move and Nintendo Wii controllers," said Dr Spears.

The system being developed is based around shadow boxing against a computer opponent. As well as striking the opponent, players will also have to avoid being struck by the computer-controlled opponent.

"The exercise will be high-intensity interval training, with relatively brief periods of playing the game interspersed with recovery periods, like a scaled down version of boxing rounds," said Dr Alan Batterham, a professor of exercise science who is a co-researcher on the project.

"There is a growing body of evidence that brief, relatively high-intensity exercise of this type is beneficial for health," he said.

"We are developing and pilot testing the exercise program, but we believe that a 10-15 minute session in total, three times a week, may be sufficient to benefit participants," he added.

The project is aimed at poorer middle-aged men living in the North East, a population which is typically hard to reach and to convince to exercise, researchers claim.

Dr. Spears said staff is being sought after, and once they are recruited, work will start on finding the first test subjects. Those that participate will be monitored extensively to check that they do not compensate for being more active in one area of life by being more lazy in others.

The trials will take place in social clubs in Teesside, said Dr Spears, and friends will be encouraged to take each other on, virtually of course.

Venues for the trials and the first intake of subjects are now being sought, said Dr Spears.

If the exergaming trials prove successful, he said, the team plans to apply for more funding to expand the number of people that go through it.


On the Net: